Staying Sane, Cavemen-Style

gorilla_laptopMankind is a smart bunch. We´ve learned how to put a man on the moon, how to build skyscrapers as high as mountains, and we have access to all the knowledge in the world via small devices in our pockets made of plastic, metal, and some microchips. We can travel back and forth between the continents in a matter of hours. We´ve developed sophisticated treatments for all kinds of human ailments, helping us to become as old as some of the trees. That´s impressive and utterly admirable.

Yet, all these upsides of modern life seem to take a toll on our bodies and minds. In most Western societies, the level of obese people is growing steadily, as is the pervasiveness of psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety-related conditions. Is this the price society has to pay for the comforts of the modern life? And more importantly:

Could we reverse these effects by turning to a more “primitive” lifestyle?

Here´s the thing: I´m sure, on the whole, we´re a lot smarter than our Neanderthalian ancestors. But being smart does not automatically lead to making smarter decisions. Let´s look at their way of life for a moment. Born in 1978, I´m not a contemporary witness – yet I´m an avid reader and watch a lot of documentaries. Here´s how I imagine life must have been for them:

  • They lived in tribes of several larger families with close bonds between the members of their group.
  • They had to toil hard in order to survive, but when their work was done (having enough food to sustain the tribe), they relaxed, played, created art, and made love.
  • The men hunted in small groups, sometimes for several days in a row. When doing so, they walked or even ran a double-digit mileage per day.
  • While chasing prey, they didn’t talk much. Instead, they focused on their immediate surroundings, the animals´ smells, sounds, and their tracks.
  • When the hunt was successful, they returned home, shared their game with everybody, and also shared their hunting lore by the fireside.
  • The women also walked long distances several time per week while searching for fruits and nuts. Some of them stayed home to take care of the tribe´s offspring. When not searching for food, they created tools, pottery, and clothing.
  • Whenever possible, they all slept long, especially in winter. They also took several naps over the course of the day whenever the environment was save.

Now let’s take this narration and transfer into more modern terms. What we have here are people who…

  • spend a lot of time with their friends and the ones they love (here´s some science on the psychological upsides of bonding);
  • finish the equivalent of a half-marathon three or four times a week (here´s some science on the psychological upsides of intense physical exercise);
  • spend most of their time in natural green environments (here´s some science on the psychological upsides of biophilia)…
  • …and practice an intuitive form of mindfulness while doing so (here´s some science on the psychological upsides of staying in the present moment).

Additionally, they…

Depression and anxiety as the body´s warning signs?

Compare this to what most Westerners are doing:

  • We eat too much food that we don´t have to struggle for.
  • We sit too much and walk too little.
  • We work insane hours, yet don´t sleep and play enough.
  • We spend too much time alone or among people we don´t really care about.
  • We get lost in cyberspace instead of staying with what´s at hand.
  • We focus too much on promoting ourselves instead of promoting the common good.

Put in simple terms, I think this is what our bodies are trying to tell us:

Hey man, you’re doing this wrong. You’re spending your time doing the wrong things, and I don’t feel safe and sound in these places you’re taking me. And where are the familiar faces that I love? But hey, I can’t explain this to you in a straight way, I don’t have words. That’s why I make you feel anxious and miserable. This is my wake-up call.

Let me close by saying that I don’t argue we should all return to an aboriginal lifestyle. I’m a city-boy all the way through. I like my work at the office, I love going out for dinner, and having a grocery store and a hospital in close proximity. But I also try to take care of myself and my body, I try to create meaning by helping people live more significant lives (e.g., via this blog…) – and ever since being married and having kids, I stay home a lot.

I guess, as ever so often, it comes down to finding the right balance.

German Workforce is especially stressed out. One more reason to bring Positive Psychology to Deutschland

Stress - Germans - ADPThe European branch of HR consulting firm ADP has surveyed some 11,000 employees across eight countries of the continent (link to press release). One of the striking results:

Despite (Or maybe: Due to?) a distinctly flourishing economy which displays an unemployment level at its lowest since the time before the reunification, Germany’s workforce seems to be utterly stressed out. 50% of workers report they are “frequently stressed” at work. That puts us in second place behind the Polish. On the other end of the continuum, stress levels are the lowest in the Netherlands*. Now what is happening here? Are my fellow countrymen really all that stressed? Or is just more accepted, or even en vogue, to report that one is stressed out?

Because the funny thing is: Several other studies show that Germans work considerably less hours per year compared to almost any other nation. Most of us can take between 24 and 30 days of vacation, there’s countless bank holidays – and working hours are pretty acceptable on average (see some more details here). So, by any means, this should be a workers’ paradise. Still, 50% heavily complain about the status quo.

My guess: it’s a question of mindsets, of attention, and focus. I’ve already written several posts on how German culture has an inclination towards “loving the negative”, and how we are overly anxious on average (e.g., how German lacks some positive words; or how studying Positive Psychology to me seemed like a course in being Un-German). Feeling overly stressed at work when we really live in a sort of land of milk and honey seems like a relative of “German Angst” or “Weltschmerz”.

But beware, my fellow countrymen: Positive Psychology will definitely come to a place somewhere near you. Even if I have to do it all by myself…

 

*According to the cliché, that must be because of all that dope they smoke over there…

Research: Linking “Positive Practices” to Organizational Effectiveness

Stones - GrowthThere are tons of books out there explaining how to use Positive Psychology for boosting the performance of organizations. But the truth is: from a scientific point of view, we really do not know very much about this link. There’s abundant research on the connection of positivity and individual performance – but it remains by and large unclear if this influence on the micro-level yields any outcomes on the macro-level. Of course, it seems to make a lot of sense to infer this relationship – but where’s the research?

A very worthwhile attempt is offered via an article named Effects of positive practices on organizational effectiveness by Kim Cameron and his colleagues. Based on prior research, they developed an inventory of what they call “positives practices”. According to the authors, these can be described as

behaviors, techniques, routines […] that represent positively deviant (i.e., unusual) practices, practices with an affirmative bias, and practices that connote virtuousness and eudemonism in organizations.

In order to do so, they administered a large number of questionnaire items to diverse groups of people. Afterwards, they clustered the answers in order to find common themes and pattern in the data. They found that all positives practices could be categorized into six distinct subgroups:

Caring

People care for, are interested in, and maintain responsibility for one another as friends.

Compassionate Support

People provide support for one another including kindness and compassion when others are struggling.

Forgiveness

People avoid blame and forgive mistakes.

Inspiration

People inspire one another at work.

Meaning

The meaningfulness of the work is emphasized, and people are elevated and renewed by the work.

Respect, Integrity, and Gratitude

People treat one another with respect and express appreciation for one another. They trust one another and maintain integrity.

Having found that structure, they gathered data from several divisions of a financial services company and one operating in the healthcare industry. They asked employees to assess their respective business unit (= the organization as a whole, not individuals) with regard to being a place that possesses the aforementioned attributes. Additionally, they obtained data on several objective and subjective key performance indicators of those business units – and finally looked at the connection of the presence of positive practices and organizational effectiveness measures. Here´s what they´ve Cameron and his colleagues found (in their own words):

In Study 1, positive practices in financial service business units were significantly associated with financial performance, work climate, turnover, and senior executive evaluations of effectiveness. In an industry in which positive practices might be assumed to carry little importance, organizational performance was substantially affected by the implementation of positive practices.

In Study 2, improvement in positive practices over a two year period in health care units predicted improvements in turnover, patient satisfaction, organizational climate, employee participation in the organization, quality of care, managerial support, and resource adequacy.

 In the course of arguing why positive practices should have a performance-boosting effect, the authors conclude that

cognitively, emotionally, behaviorally, physiologically, and socially, evidence suggests that human systems naturally prefer exposure to the positive, so it is expected that organizational performance would be enhanced by positive practices.

Of course, Cameron et al. urge us to be careful not to make strong inferences from their results:

The results of these two investigations, of course, are suggestive and not conclusive.

Still, their work is one of the first and still very rare pieces of research that links positive organizational behavior to organizational effectiveness. I am very much looking forward to scholars who pick up on these findings and expand our knowledge on the positivity-performance link.

22 Positive Psychology-infused Articles every (HR) Leader should know

Positive Organizational ScholarshipPositive Psychology has a lot to offer for leaders, especially those people taking on a leadership role in human resources and people management. In this post, I´ve gathered 22 research articles infused by Positive Psychology (more specifically: Positive Organizational Scholarship) that, in my opinion, have tremendous value for aspiring as well as established managers and entrepreneurs.

The topics comprise desirable attributes and personality variables such as grit, character strengths, and core self-evaluations, how to create positive relationships at work, how employee motivation is created and sustained, how to find meaning and purpose in work, and several review articles, e.g., on the connection of positive emotions and job performance. Enjoy!

P.S.
This is my 300. post since I’ve started Mappalicious about two years ago. Giving myself a slight pat on the back right now…

Want to be the Boss? Be Happy, Science says, and you´ll be a Good Leader

Happy BossFor a moment, think about a leadership person (a.k.a. boss) in your life that you really liked working for. How could that person be described, what kind of personality did he/she convey? Was he/she more the grumpy moaner – or rather an upbeat “Sunday´s child”?

Turns out that this question is not only about likeability but also about leadership effectiveness. In a recent meta-analysis* published in The Leadership Quarterly titled Is a happy leader a good leader? A meta-analytic investigation of leader trait affect and leadership, Dana L. Joseph and her colleagues found that – broadly speaking – happier leaders also tend to be more effective leaders. In the words of Joseph and her colleagues:

Our analyses show that leader trait affectivity, particularly leader trait positive affect, plays a significant role in predicting leadership criteria.

A happy boss is a good boss.

They also find that the relationship between leader happiness and effectiveness may not be a direct one. Rather, it seems that happy bosses predominantly engage in a special leadership style that has been coined transformational leadership. As opposed to more traditional leadership styles (telling people what to do and controlling them; management by objectives etc.), transformational leadership, according to Joseph et al., consists of the following dimensions:

  • idealized influence, or the extent to which a leader displays conviction and behaves in a way that causes followers to identify with him/her;
  • inspirational motivation, which involves communicating optimism and challenging followers to meet high standards;
  • intellectual stimulation, or the extent to which a leader takes risks, challenges assumptions, and encourages follower creativity;
  • and individualized consideration, which is characterized by follower mentoring, attending to follower needs, and listening to follower concerns.

Now, does that sound like the behavior of a boss we´d all like to work for? My answer is a clear yes. And it predominantly starts with that person´s happiness.

* A special type of study that statistically aggregates previous study results to provide an overview of a specific branch of research.

Want to stay on top of Positive Psychology in Organizations? Here are 3 Reviews for you (PDF)

Happy ManagersBeing a manager in my day job, I am foremost interested in the application of Positive Psychology in organizations – and the science exploring these issues, Positive Organizational Scholarship. While there are a couple of good trade books on the subject, I also like to read original research papers which is always a great source for new ideas to blog about. As there are so many articles out there, the question is: Where should we start?

The (or at least my) answer is: Always start with review articles, and, if there are any, meta-analyses. Both are tremendously valuable in order to get an overview of a discipline in the shortest amount of time – as the authors first scan the extant data-bases for relevant articles, and then organize and summarize the current body of research. It´s a lot of hard work which is usually rewarded by receiving frequent citations over time. So, thanks to all those diligent, hard-working review writers out there!

Here´s a list of three reviews on Positive Psychology in organizations for you – the links will lead you to the respective PDFs. Enjoy!

No, the Chief Happiness Officer is not the Pizza Guy!

Smiling PizzaAs Positive Psychology has been entering mainstream media outlets over the past years, there have been people advocating for the implementation of ”Chief Happiness Officer” (CHO) role (sometimes also: Chief Wellbeing Officer) in organizations, typically as part of the wider HR/People Operations department. And while I fully endorse the idea in general (as there is a very distinct connection between employee happiness/wellbeing and organizational success, please see this article for an overview) I get really frustrated when reading what this role supposedly is all about. Here´s a selection of what I´ve read in several news outlets and blogs over the past weeks:

  • ordering pizza, ice-cream, massages and the like;
  • organizing office parties;
  • organizing trainings;
  • helping with relocation;
  • helping to individualize workplace furniture and design;

Excuse me – but are you f…..g kidding me? This is the description of a team or human resources assistant. We don´t need a CHO to achieve these things…

The Chief Happiness Officer is not the Pizza Guy!

A CHO that really deserves the C in her title would be a strategic role out and out, someone who reports directly to an organization´s CHRO or even CEO, as employee wellbeing has been shown to impact the bottom line in a pretty direct way. A CHO, the way I see it, should have a least 10 to 15 years of experience in different HR functions (e.g., leadership instruments, employer branding, payroll etc.) and should also have gained some experience in more operational roles to know about the “pain points” of the employees she´s responsible for. She would have (at least) a master´s degree in a field like organizational/occupational/positive psychology, or even an MBA with a specialization in one of those areas – and several years of experience in a leadership role. Increasingly, expertise in predictive data modelling could also be helpful, but I guess this could be delegated to a specialist. The role should be responsible for or at least significantly involved in the following processes and functions:

  1. strategy and mission development;
  2. leadership culture, development and instruments;
  3. training initiatives, especially on leadership;
  4. development of career tracks and work-time models,
  5. performance management including compensation & benefits;
  6. employee surveys, predictive analytics and other (big) data initiatives;
  7. employer branding, recruiting, and retention management;
  8. corporate health initiatives;
  9. workplace design;
  10. internal communications.

Only, if the CHO role is able to significantly influence all these tasks and processes in a concerted approach and is part of (or has regular access to) the company´s top management, it would be possible to leverage the valuable insights that Positive Psychology and especially Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS) have generated over the last 20 years. Image Source